Part 57: Taking the High RoadUpdate 30: Taking the High Road
"Before we take on any grand quests, we should scout the area around Castleview to see what we can learn about this side of Xeen. We'll cover more ground faster from above. It's probably safer than staying at ground level, too."
"While you are speaking of safety, if you enjoy not plummeting to a messy death, you had better be thanking me for my magic!"
Levitate isn't necessary for walking on the smooth, "roadlike" parts of the Skyroads, but there are some areas of "soft" clouds off the beaten path that require levitation to walk on. Levitation won't do any good if we step off the road entirely and into the open sky, so we still have to watch our step up here.
"What's that ahead of us? It looks like some kind of sprite, or perhaps an imp. I've seen nothing quite like it before..."
"Whatever it is, it's coming this way! Look sharp!"
By popular demand (by which I mean "one guy requested it and I figured hey, why not"), I've started capturing some more of the animation frames of enemies this update. Medusa Sprites look pretty intimidating when they attack, and rightly so: as the name suggests, their attack has a chance to turn characters to stone. Luckily, it's a physical attack and they don't have a particularly good bonus to hit, so if you're kitted out in decent armour they shouldn't touch you. If you're feeling extra paranoid, keep a Power Shield buff active: their attack does a maximum of 9 damage, so if you're at least level 9 they can't scratch you through the shield.
They only have 30 HP, so practically any attack will one-shot them. It took a couple of tries to get a good shot of their "taking damage" animation because I kept killing them before it had a chance to play.
"Yoink! Free bucket!"
"The logistics of this well are mind-boggling. What strange firmament supports it, into what manner of celestial aquifer has it been sunk, and what in the world did you just draw up from its depths?"
"Fubar find answer to last question in only way Fubar know how!"
"Fubar? You okay?"
"... taste like sadness..."
I still don't know what this status condition does, but it resolves on its own eventually, so I don't care too much. There are two other Buckets o' Darkness in the immediate area, inflicting confusion and insanity. All three are best avoided.
"Doot de doo, strollin' along a skyroad, deedly doop doop dowhaaaaaa?"
"Flench not like look of this. Maybe discretion better part of valour."
If you venture too far away from Castleview on the Skyroads, you'll begin to run into Sky Golems. This little encounter is a salutary warning that at low levels in Darkside, it's very easy to run into monsters who will totally mess you up. Even with a full set of buffs active, we can barely dent Sky Golems' 1000 HP, and their powerful cold-based attacks will wipe us out within a few rounds at most.
"Once again, the power of my magic has saved the day!"
"Figures that all you're good for is helping us run for our lives."
"Hey, if you'd rather hold the line while the rest of us escape, be my guest. Otherwise, come help us explore some places that won't get us all killed."
"Ooh, this must be Queen Kalindra's castle. Doesn't look like we'll be getting in until we find some more of those Energy Disc thingies so Ellinger can restore it."
"Fubar not see water here. Only clouds."
"Actually, clouds made of water droplets suspended in air. From one perspective, whole sky is water zone."
"Um, nothing? Thanks, mysterious voice, but we're good for now."
"Whoa, you don't gotta get all offended all of a sudden! I even said thanks already!"
"This is shaping up to be rather a painful adventure, even by our standards."
This little spot of water in the far corner of the Skyroads is important, but there's nothing productive we can do with it yet, even if we guessed the correct answer to the question. (It's not hard to guess.)
"If my mappings are correct -- and, being that I am the great Vandesloof, of course they are -- we are directly above the Great Western Tower. And what a fondle of luck: the upper entrance is unlocked! We can be exploring it at any time we wish."
"It's 'a stroke of luck', Sloof."
"Ah, but a fondle is luckier than a stroke."
"I must say, if this is the Joe we're acquainted with, I'm morbidly curious as to how he'd operate a restaurant."
"I'm going to go ahead and assume the answer involves a bribed meat inspector and a lot of sewer rats."
"Look out, everyone! Golem at twelve o'clock!"
"What? Is only seven thirty, and golem is here now!"
"Perhaps we can find shelter in this merchant's wagon!"
"Huh? Oh, I see where this is going."
"Are we about to get an inexplicably generous reward for answering a simple riddle?"
"Called it. What kind of merchant gives stuff away for free, anyway?"
"Apparently, the same kind of merchant whose customers pay good money for smoke."
"And with that, our business here is done. Vandesloof's Vigilantes, awaaaaaay!"
"Wait, the party's named after you now? I never agreed to that! If anything, we should be Anleisa's Avengers!"
"More like Trish's Terrors!"
"What? Fubar like flowers. Also, hear big new investment opportunity just open up in tulip bulbs."
"Can this riveting discussion perhaps wait until after we've escaped from the murderous golems?"
"It might be best to conclude our exploration of the skyroads for the moment, with life and limb still relatively intact."
"I think this rope goes all the way down to the ground. At least, I sure hope it does. Here goes nothin'!"
"Wheeeeeeeeeee! Let's climb back up and do that again!"
"We're alive, but your little stunt seems to have attracted some unwelcome attention."
"Ugh, spiders! Why must our quest be so revolting?"
"Not worry. These just as afraid of you as you of them."
"No. Unless you not afraid at all, that was complete lie. But maybe help keep you calm if you believe it. ... Flench not very good liar."
Arachnoids are a step up in danger from the monsters in Castleview, and their attacks can inflict poison, but on the whole they're not too deadly. A reasonably well-equipped party like ours should be able to crush them and keep on exploring. If you do feel the need to end the battle quickly with a spell, don't bother using poison-based attack magic: they're completely immune to it.
"Oh great, as if the spiders weren't bad enough, now we have to deal with hippies. Go get a job, you bums!"
"Glass houses, Anleisa."
Barbarians hit a little harder than Arachnoids and can attack from range, but they can't inflict any status conditions and don't pose a real threat to a well-armoured party.
When defeated, they drop a little gold and have a decent chance to carry a random low-level item. Their gruesome deaths will help re-equip our party with neat accessories.
"Now that we've killed off the locals, their gods must be pretty lonely. I bet they'll be a real soft touch if we ask them for favours."
"... are you really a cleric? Wait, no, better question. Just who or what are you a cleric of?"
"Hey, I don't make the rules. I just ruthlessly exploit them."
A temporary 3-level bonus is pretty significant at this stage of the game -- it wouldn't be a bad idea to set a Lloyd's Beacon at this shrine for later use.
"At last, a sign of friendly civilisation!"
"If map correct, we are at shore of Acid Pond, due north of Castleview. Strange place for settlement."
Ah, my favourite early-game location in Darkside of Xeen. There are four smiths in tents around the pond, who offer to make ruby, emerald, sapphire and diamond equipment in exchange for the appropriate type of gemstone rock and an increasingly hefty fee in gems.
Unfortunately, we don't have any gemstone rocks right now, but given that the mountains immediately to the north are called the Gemstone Range, you might be able to guess how we could get some.
"Is Acid Pond really full of acid, or just named after Mister Acid or something?"
"Only one way to find out!"
"Aaaaa! This isn't the fun kind of acid! Everyone, out!"
"Another merchant? Perhaps this one will accept payment in coin, rather than insisting upon rocks."
"... tower and must gain readmittance as soon as possible to salvage what I can from the situation. The only way in is from the top, but the heretics have placed magical wards against my entrance. Perhaps you could get by the wards and open the tower to me again."
"Ah, another worthy cause for us to fight for!"
"Wait, are we sure he's the good guy in whatever dispute he's having with these so-called heretics? I'm just saying, he sounded kinda nuts."
"He didn't immediately attack us. That's good enough for me."
"Uh, it's been like thirty seconds. We were just coming back in to tell you that we've decided to help you, probably, at some point, if we get around to it. But okay, whatever. See you."
"This was the hut we emerged from when we left the Skyroads. From here, we should be able to retrace our steps back to Castleview."
Just in case you'd forgotten, the well leading down is in a region of soft clouds. So remember to cast Levitate as soon as you climb up to the Skyroads if it's not already active, or you'll immediately fall back down and take a bunch of damage.
Between the monsters we killed and the experience award from solving the Merchant of the Elements' puzzle, everyone except Fubar and Anleisa managed to gain a level this update.
We've already seen a taste of Darkside's difficulty with the Sky Golems, and they're far from the worst thing this side of the world can throw at us. The party will need far more power than this if they want to save Xeen from Alamar.
Our grand tour of the Skyroads has only covered about half the southwestern quadrant of the Darkside, but already we've opened up a surprising number of new locations. Next time, should the party go digging for treasure in the Gemstone Mines, try to help Dreyfus drive out the heretics in the Great Western Tower or continue exploring outdoors? Vote now, secure in the knowledge that no matter what option you choose I'll have plenty of opportunities to get the party horribly killed next update!
boy howdy, will i ever